This is the largest city closest to Machu Picchu and is full of culture, history, and tons of tourism. If you have plans to visit Peru, this city should be on your list.
Cathedral of Cuzco or Basilica Cathedral
25 Soles (S/) ($7.70)
This gives you a look into historical Spanish Cathedrals. This place is massive, so be sure to allot at least an hour to this site.
Cathedrals in Peru were often built on top of or around Inca temples. So look for the glass in the floor where you can see building remains from the original Inca temple.
Note that there is no photography or filming (flash or no flash).
You may run into locals near the entrance offering to give you a guided tour for a fee. We opted not to use one. If you do, chat with them ahead of time to get a feel for their English fluency and make sure the cost of the tour is pre-negotiated.
Iglesia de la Compañía or Compañia de Jesús
Temple of the Society of Jesus or Company of Jesus
10 S/ ($3.07)
Note the small entryway on the left side of the cathedral (shortly after entering). You can go up a steep set of stairs and get a look out on the plaza from the bell tower.
Convento de Santo Domingo y Qoricancha
Church of Saint Domingo & Temple of the Sun Museum
15 S/ ($4.62)
Note: The language of the Inca, called Quechua, was only oral. Therefore, spellings of Quechua words were created more recently, causing some words to have multiple spellings. For example, the word Inca is sometimes spelled Inka. Another example of this is the word listed above: Qoricancha. You may see this spelled any of the following ways:
If you’re staying at the Palacio del Inka, this is just a simple walk across the street. While other cathedrals were built on top of Inca Temples, leaving scarcely a trace of their past history, this cathedral was built more around the original Inca temple. Here you get to observe Inca masonry and Spanish architecture/art. This was our favorite cathedral/temple to tour.
Note that in some areas there is no photography or filming (flash or no flash). In the more outside areas, photos and video are fine.
Monumento Inko Pachacuteq
Monument to the Inca Pachacutec
This large statue is within a large oval garden area. Each flower bed is in the shape of an animal such as a llama or horse. The area as a whole is referred to locally as Ovalo Pachatuceq (use this name if taking a taxi). It’s a longer walk than many places in relation to the city center, but it provides different views and a different feel than the downtown area of Cusco. You’ll begin noticing less tourists and as a result, less touristy businesses. The area provides a look into local Cusco life.
While the statue provides a great photo op from the ground be sure to go to the top for 2 S/ ($0.62). There’s some information panels along the way but not all offer English translations. At the top you get a nice view of Cusco, particularly the home-dotted mountainsides.
Mercado de San Pedro
Market of Saint Pedro
The building for this market was created in 1925. Inside you can find just about anything such as clothing, blankets, trinquets, and food. We’d not recommend eating the fruit as it was likely washed in local water. There’s many small food booths as well, although stand-alone restaurants may offer greater cleanliness. If you have a strong stomach, take a look at the meat section!
Plaza de Armas
This is the main square in Cusco, Peru. it marks the colonial city center. In the middle, is a small park with benches, colorful flowers and sidewalks. On two edges of the square you can find Basilica Catedral and Iglesia de la Compañía/ Compañia de Jesús. The rest of the square has a colonnade surrounding it with shops and restaurants.
While we were in town, a parade was held complete with traditional dancing, music, and colorful outfits.
King of Maps
This is an amazing map store with maps drawn by local artists. It's in the main square.
Note: In Peru, you have to be very careful with the water. Although they have improved their sanitation and water systems over the past years, there's still bacteria that your stomach may not be used to if you are not from the region. For this reason, we were not very adventurous when it came to dining. You may be fine, but we avoided tap water, ice, and raw fruits/veggies that may have been washed in their tap water. Click here for more water safety tips.
We really enjoyed this restaurant as the food and the service were excellent. They offer English menus and the staff speaks a good bit of English which makes the process easier. You can also order pick up.
The restaurant is supposed to be a “taste of India”; however, they also offer American options. Their Pizza de Casa with chicken, pepperoni, ham, bacon, tomato, and bell peppers is excellent! It’s only 28 S/ ($8.62) and can feed two people.
The menu items are similar to that of American McDonalds. Menu items are listed as combos, but you can purchase the entree only (sin papas fritas y una bebida).
Ketchup is available upon request although it tastes different than American ketchup. Remember to ask for no ice in your drink as the ice is likely made from local water.
A combo will run you about 12 S/ ($3.70).
Palace of the Incas
This hotel is upscale and thus pricey, but we stayed there on points. The staff was great and extremely accommodating. The coolest aspect of this hotel is it history dating back to the Incas. Some aspects of the building are a few hundred years old. Upon Spanish invasion, it became the home of Francisco Pizarro, the leader of the Conquistadors. The rooms are very nice and the entire hotel is immaculate.
A few features we found helpful:
Concierge: The concierges spoke excellent English and were very knowledgeable. The map they’ve created of Cusco proved indispensable. There are also an activity desk that can book excursions for you.
Taxi service: While street taxis often worked for us, the hotel has taxi drivers they can schedule for you. Their rates ran higher than street taxis but were still reasonable compared to American rates. For example, a one hour and 45 minute taxi ride cost us 140 soles ($43) compared to 120 soles ($38) quoted to us by street taxis. The extra cost was worth it to us when our trip was time sensitive (getting to the train station). Additionally, these taxi drivers were very professional and drove nicer vehicles than other taxis we saw. I wouldn’t recommend this for taxi rides to the airport though. Our two trips between the airport ran us 8-10 S/ whereas they quoted us 25 S/.
Currency conversion: They converted USD to S/ for a reasonable rate, and it’s more convenient/safer to do this at your hotel. Note that they do not convert S/ back into USD.
They will hold your bags for free. We left for two nights for Machu Picchu and Ollantaytambo. They held our luggage for free and had it waiting for us in our new room when we returned.
There is no complimentary breakfast, although paid breakfast is common in upscale hotels.
Some (or perhaps all) rooms don’t have AC. We noticed this from reviews later, but this wasn’t an issue in July as it’s their winter.
Note: They do allow for early check in (if a room is available) but for a charge of $30.
The majority of sites you will want to see in Cusco can be accessed by walking. You’ll likely just need a taxi to travel in between your hotel and the airport or train station. Taxis can easily be found roaming the streets waiting for passengers.
Unlike the U.S., the taxis do not have meters, so fares are negotiated beforehand. Once you’re on your way, the taxi driver may try to raise the price and pretend he’ll drop you off if you don’t agree to the new terms. Stick to the original price as it’s unlikely he’d actually do so.
The exchange rate is roughly $1 USD to 3.25 S/. We exchanged money at our hotel for $1 USD to 3.17 S/. There’s also Western Unions and similar institutions that can do currency exchanges.
Some places will let you pay in USD, but you’ll need Soles for the majority of shops.
Here are the words and phrases we found the most helpful:
Buenos días: Good day/Good morning
Used to greet others in the morning.
Buenas tardes: Good afternoon
Used to greet other in the afternoon. From noon until dark.
Buenas noches: Good night/Good evening
Used to greet others in the evening. Starting when it is dark outside.
¿Cuánto cuesta?: How much does it cost?
Note: Many merchants will give prices in English, but brushing up on your numbers should certainly be helpful. They refer to one sol as nuevo. The plural of sol is soles.
Dónde está ______: Where is…
¿Dónde está el baño? ¿Donde está el pan?
La Cuenta: Bill at a restaurant
La cuenta por favor.
No, gracias: No, thank you
Note: You’ll be offered lots of items for sale by roaming street vendors. This is a good response to let them know you’re uninterested.
Perdón: Pardon, excuse me
Use when bumping into or needing to go around someone on the sidewalk, in the market, etc. Also used to get someone’s attention or to have them repeat something.
Lo siento: I’m sorry